WILD SEE STANDING-ROOM ONLY CROWDS AT PLAYOFF WATCH PARTIESApr 29, 2019
By Tom Witosky
For Don Bishop and Angie Walker-Springer, the 2018-19 Iowa Wild season has been what they’ve patiently and loyally waited for.
“It’s been a pretty impressive showing,” said Bishop, a Des Moines season ticket holder for all six seasons, while attending the Wild’s watch party for Game 3 of the Calder Cup Playoff series with the Milwaukee Admirals at Buffalo Wild Wings in West Des Moines. “I just hope they can play like this all the time.”
Walker-Springer, a season ticket holder from Adel with her 14-year-old son, Connar, agreed.
“They’ve been amazing this year and it’s been a lot of fun to see them play all year. They are a true team,” she said.
Bishop and Walker-Spring were among a standing room only crowd of Wild fans who cheered noisily and often as the Wild battled with the Admirals. Prior to the game, 30 to 40 Wild fans stood in line waiting for a chance to get in to watch.
Inside, AHL playoff hockey dominated the sports bar’s big screens even though it was first night of the NFL Draft and the Stanley Cup Playoffs were also on.
The crowd, which included a number of player wives, girlfriends and children, impressed Brad Bombardir, the Minnesota Wild’s player development director, who remained in Des Moines to oversee the workouts of Wild prospects brought to Des Moines as members of the playoff reserve squad.
“It’s really something to see Iowa on the big screens when the NFL draft is going on,” he said.
Iowa Wild staffers were also impressed and a bit surprised at the turnout.
“We’ve had watch parties in the past where we're lucky if we get 20 people there and now it's exploded where we're doing it at different locations,” said Eric Grundfast, vice president of sales for the Iowa Wild.
Official watch parties will be available for Wild fans for Monday night’s Game 5 showdown, which begins at 7 p.m., at Buffalo Wild Wings in West Des Moines and Merle Hay and Buzzard Billy’s in Des Moines. Grundfast said he wouldn’t be surprised if other sports bars also turned on the game.
The Wild’s success this season helped the club to set a new attendance record of 243,558 for an average of 6,409 fans per game. The club’s previous attendance record – 233,803 for an average of 6,153 per game – was set last season. The Wild ranked 11th in the AHL in total attendance this season up one spot from last year.
Grundfast said season ticket renewals are now at their highest pace for the 2019-20 season, as are corporate sponsorships renewals.
“We found that the hook is to win games and people are jumping on board to support the club,” Grundfast said. “Renewals are above pace from last year. It’s the highest percentage of renewals we've ever had in six years.”
Springer-Walker, who is a member of the Wild’s fan advisory board, praised the club’s attention to fans as much as the team’s success on the ice. She said her son’s participation in the Wild’s hockey clinics for beginners was just one example of how the franchise has built a foundation with fans.
“He's been playing hockey ever since and loves it. His dream one day is to maybe be an Iowa Wild player,” she said.
She also said players and club officials have made it easy to become an Iowa Wild fan.
“They're all fan friendly. The guys that play are like family,” she said. “You can be walking down the hallway or anywhere and see somebody who works for the Wild and they give you a high-five or a fist bump. It’s just warm and fuzzy.”
For Bishop, the season has been one that he would like to see continue into the next round, but he added he knows how the club has come over the last couple of seasons.
“There are ups and downs like any other sport, you're going to have ups and downs,” he said. “It kind of discourages everybody when we're not winning all the time, but we’re winning now. That's the real breath of fresh air.”